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Kirby Smart's focus is on football as Georgia prepares for North Carolina

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Smart talks state of UGA football (2:05)

Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart joins The Paul Finebaum Show to discuss the Bulldogs' quarterback and running back situations going into Week 1. (2:05)


ATHENS, Ga. -- Eight arrests.

Two dismissals.

A seemingly never-ending quarterback battle.

A suspension involving a player with a substance abuse problem.

Concern on the offensive and defensive lines.

A battle at left tackle.

Relatively unproven receivers.

A controversial graduate transfer.

The health of all-everything back Nick Chubb.

A depth chart loaded with 17 ORs at starting positions.

These are some of the noteworthy events for first-year Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who now has to get his 18th-ranked Bulldogs prepared to play offensive-happy No. 22 North Carolina at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

Welcome to life as a head coach at a major university, Kirby. The days of lying low as a defensive coordinator in the mighty shadow of Nick Saban are over. You have weekly press conferences with the icky media and you've turned into somewhat of a CEO of a storied SEC program -- which just so happens to be your alma mater.

Old friends and acquaintances have been constantly pulling at you, while you try to run the program that you both so dearly love.

All of this is happening straight ahead and in Smart's peripherals, but as the season creeps closer, Smart has his blinders on. In fact, he's had his blinders on since they started true UNC game prep last week. All the "noise" has seemingly dissipated in Smart's bubble. With only a few days left until UNC's arrival, Smart and his football team are purely in football mode, and it's glorious.

"I really think I've been focusing on football since we started off," Smart said during his weekly press conference on Monday. "This is anticlimactic for me because we've already been in game week.

"To be honest, my focus has been on this team and getting this team better. There's a lot of things I can't control outside that that have nothing to do with the outcome of the game. So we're focused on the guys that can play, and that's what we're doing.”

This is exactly what you want from your rookie head coach. Whether his subconscious agrees with the words is up for debate, but you could tell by his relative saltiness on Monday. He's tired of questions and ready for answers.

"It's not hard to motivate them for the first game," Smart said.

His players agree. They're tired of hitting each other and tired of going through the motions. For them it's simple: line up and play.

"It's another team we can hit that we're not going to have to help up off the ground because it's not our teammate," wide receiver Terry Godwin said. "We're going to go out there and have fun and play ball."

But make no mistake about it, the ravenous culture associated with being a Georgia and SEC fan will make losing Saturday's game that much more difficult for Smart. That's when the walls of those blinders start to slowly crumble. When your school's last coach was fired for not being better than the 9-plus wins he averaged per season over 15 years, an opening loss to an ACC team in the state of Georgia won't win the new guy many friends. Sure, UNC has the offensive playmakers to run circles around anyone, but that'll mean squat to fans.

You start fast or you hear the chirps early and often ... even if a loss to UNC would have zero effect on the Bulldogs' SEC title hopes.

However, a win will not only liven the fan base, it'll inject a healthy dose of confidence into a team still surrounded by questions. With Ole Miss and Tennessee looming, a win over UNC will go a long way. It'll go even further for true freshman Jacob Eason if he is in fact the man under center and those thin lines.

But even with all that is swirling in the ether, Smart isn't paying it any mind. His tunnel vision shows an outward confidence about Saturday. In fact, he thinks the actual pregame prep and in-game work is tougher on the coordinators than the head man.

“For me, the amount of pressure that I've put on myself as a defensive coordinator for the last 10, 11 years, I really believe there's a lot more decisions that go into that position than the head coach," Smart said. "There's 70 plays in a game and you gotta call 70 defenses. It's a lot different when you're the head coach and you're deciding timeouts and to go for it on fourth down or not, you know, the things the head coach has gotta decide. It's a lot different.

"When it comes to game day, I think the confidence in what we've done up to this point allows me to be comfortable with where we are.”

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has the task of figuring out UNC's uptempo attack, which returns just about all of its top playmakers from a squad that averaged nearly 500 yards and 40.7 points per game last year. Smart can defer more and concentrate on other aspects of his team.

There's a lot for Smart and his team to digest in the next few days, but it's a relief to finally have a real game, and there's no doubt where their focus is.

"If we kick off in Alaska, we'll be ready," defensive lineman DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle.

"I'm as ready as you can be."